Customizable electronic commerce comparison system and method
In a consumer information system, a method of comparing products and services including providing product specific information, providing merchant specific information on the specified product, providing merchant specific business information, providing product specific information collected by third parties, providing merchant specific information collected by third parties, applying weighting factors to the information provided, producing an aggregate value for each merchant based on the weighting factors as applied to the information provided, and producing a ranking of the merchants offering the specified product based on the aggregate value for each merchant. The system provides for consumers to select a set of standardized weighting factors or to modify the standardized weighting factors or to create their own weighting factors. The system provides detailed information to consumers on the breakdown of factors influencing the rating.
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention relates generally to price comparison and shopping systems, and more particularly, to online comparison-shopping systems.
2. Description of the Related Art
Online shopping systems, or “shop bots,” provide consumers with the ability to perform a price comparison for a specific product. A shop bot will search its database for the specified product, the product's price, and a few other pieces of information. The shop bot then returns the results of the query to the user, typically ranking the return results based on the price each merchants specifies for the product. Often the lowest price is given the highest ranking. However, some shop bots limit merchant access to those merchants who have paid the shop bot a fee for being included in their rankings.
Examples of available shop bots include Junglee™ which provides a consumer with the ability to specify a product and receive a search return ranking merchants who list the product as for sale. The ranking is based solely on price of the product.
Another shop bot is MySimon™ which provides a similar search return ranking merchants based on price of the offered goods. Merchants can distinguish themselves from other merchants by purchasing links to the merchants web site, promotional advertising, or logos.
Still another shop bot is pcOrder.com which provides information on price and compatibility of computer products from affiliated manufacturers and distributors. Several web sites, including “Shop the Web” from Amazon.com do rating and providing recommendations on sites. These sites are limited to ranking based on offered price and do not include the total price to the consumer, including the costs of shipping and handling which can vary widely among different merchants. Some merchants have begun the practice of offering low prices on the product and including high sipping and handling charges. In this manner some merchants have sought to manipulate existing shop bots which only rank based on offered price of the product, and not the total price for the product delivered to the consumer.
Some web sites allow for ranking by consumers. Sites such as Compare.net allow a consumer to select and compare offerings from different merchants or manufacturers, and the consumer may select a ranking button which allows the consumer to respond in survey fashion to which product the consumer would most likely purchase. The disadvantage of such web sites is that they only present data to the consumer and then let the consumer perform the difficult task of making a comparison. In this manner the site does little for the consumer. What the site does do is present and collect survey information for use by merchants and manufacturers
Another online service aimed at providing consumers with information is BizRate™. Bizrate collects information through consumer questionnaires at the point of purchase and through independent testing. Bizrate uses this information in rating, such as gold or silver, a merchant. The collection of information through point of purchase questionnaires necessitates the cooperation and approval of the merchant. Not surprisingly, merchants who do not score well on these surveys have an incentive not to continue participating.
While some web sites seek to compile information on multiple merchants, other sites provide consumers with information on their specific product. Sites such as those run by Dell™ and Gmbuypower.com help a consumer select a product and see how the customization of the product effects the price, but these sites do not allow for customization of comparing between different merchants offering similar goods. Such sites often present data on their offered product in manner that is most favorable to the merchant or manufacturer. Consumers lack the ability to customize the site to their needs or to rank competing products based on more than just offered price.
Another problem for consumers in using the available web sites is the affiliation, whether made known to the consumer or not, of the web site with the merchant or manufacturer. Advertising and licensing are major revenue sources for many web sites from portals to shop bots. Merchants or manufacturers pay for more prominent placement in search returns and rankings. Some sites only search or rank merchants that pay a fee to the site. Such affiliations undermine the credibility of the information presented to the consumer and obscure any validity of the search or ranking.
Thus, there has been a need for providing consumers with specific information which enables them to make informed decisions. The present invention meets this need.SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
An online information system, a method of collecting information on the products and services of merchants, establishing a weighting for comparison information, calculating a ranking for the merchant based on the weighting of the comparison information, and returning the results of the ranking to the consumer.
In one embodiment of the present invention the weighting factors are input by the consumer, allowing the consumer to customize the ranking to reflect the priorities the consumer places on different factors when making a purchasing decision.
The present invention overcomes the limitations of prior online information systems which did not have the capacity to provide a ranking based on a wide variety of factors related to consumer purchasing habits and decisions. Additionally, the system of the present invention allows consumers to customize the weighting of factors. A present embodiment provides the ability for consumers to select which information items should be considered in the ranking and the weight accorded to the individual information items. Additionally, the present invention provides consumers with the ability to lock the chose weightings, and to group information items in categories to more easily prioritize categories of information relating to specific concerns of the consumer. Examples of specific concerns are security of the consumer's credit card information, and the reliability of the merchant in delivering the product within a specified time.
These and other purposes and advantages of the invention will be better appreciated from the following detailed description of the invention.
The present invention comprises a novel system and method providing a ranking of merchants based on information on the merchants. The following description is presented to enable any person skilled in the art to make and use the invention, and is provided in the context of a particular application and its requirements. Various modifications to the preferred embodiment will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art, and the general principles defined herein may be applied to other embodiments and applications without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Although described with reference to certain specific embodiments, those skilled in the art will recognize that the present invention may be practiced with or without some or all of these details. Thus, the present invention is not intended to be limited to the embodiment shown but is to be accorded the widest scope consistent with the principles and features disclosed herein.
Referring to the illustrative block diagram of
As used herein “merchants,” unless specified, applies to any provider of a good or service whether or not they are formally organized as a business. The term merchant applies to distributors, producers, organizations, non-profits and potentially individuals, offering a good or service for barter or sale. Similarly, the term “consumer,” unless otherwise specified, applies to any person or entity seeking information on a good or service, whether or not there is a specific intention, desire, or ability to purchase or barter for the offered good or service. Unless otherwise specified, the term “product” refers to any good or service which is the subject of commerce.
In response to a query forwarded by the consumer the server requests comparison information from the database relating to both the product specified in the query and the merchants offering the specified product. The server also retrieves weighting factor information from the database. The server applies the weighting factor information to the merchant information and the comparison information on the specified product to calculate weighted comparison factors relating to product and merchant information. A detailed description of the calculation of the weighted comparison factors is provided below in connection with
The process of applying the weighting factors to the information on the merchant or the specified product is illustrated in
If at step (304) it is determined that the information is sufficient for ranking the system proceeds to step (306). At step (306) the system applies a filter to screen any merchants not meeting any selected criteria. Examples of screening information includes any information corresponding to a potential weighting factor as shown in connection with
Table 1 shows examples of weighting factors used in comparing and ranking merchants.
Optionally, category fields (415) are adjacent the weighting lock fields (414). The category fields tie together items of comparison information present in the corresponding comparison fields (413). The same given number, character, string, symbol, or other identifier entered in the category fields of two comparison fields indicates to the system that these two items of comparison information are to be includes in the same category. Category tags (416) indicate the available categories of comparison information, such as security, on time delivery, customer satisfaction, environmental compliance, labor relations, etc. Adjacent the category tags (416) are category weighting fields (417). A weighting factor for a category is entered in the category weighting fields (417). By entering the identifier in the category field of two or more items of comparison information, the consumer indicates that the selected comparison information items are to be part of a category having a specific weighting factor, as entered in the category weighting field (417). Any changes to the weighting factors entered in the weighting fields (413) corresponding to comparison information items will not change the weighting of the category of information which the comparison information item corresponds. In this manner the present invention allows a consumer to adjust the relative weights of comparison information items relating to security, while keeping constant the weighting factor for security in the ranking. Optionally, the items of comparison information could be arranged into categories which the user could then customize or eliminate altogether. Another option of the present invention is to allow comparison information items corresponding to the same category to be grouped on the screen. As the user adds or deletes comparison information items from a given category the system could rearrange the comparison information tags, and their associated weighting factor fields, to associate comparison information tags with other comparison information tags in the same category.
Optionally, category weighting locks (418) which correspond to the category tag (416) are adjacent the category weighting fields. The system can lock the weights of some of the categories such that the corresponding category weighting factor can't be altered. In this manner the system protects the user from removing or rebalancing critical categories of information from the ranking. Optionally, the system locks could be clickable by the consumer to allow the consumer to lock in specific weights such that the system will not rebalance or change them from the user's desired weighting.
A weight factor tutor button (420) allows the consumer to request instructions and advice from the system on how to customize the weighting ranking to suit the consumers need. Optionally, the system could suggest different weighting factor paradigms for the consumer. In this manner the system would provide multiple paradigms where the weighting factors are chosen to maximize a particular preference set, while still considering other factors in the merchant ranking. As an example, one weighting factor paradigm could provide a strong emphasis on security, while ranking all other information at a lower, roughly equivalent, level. Another paradigm could give a high ranking to both total cost of the delivered product and to the factors relating to customer satisfaction, giving a secondary ranking to security and on-time delivery, and giving a very low ranking to environmental and labor relation factors. Still another paradigm could give the highest weighting to environmental and labor relations, giving a secondary weighting to both offered price and customer satisfaction, and giving a very low ranking to on-time deliver and delivery options. Accordingly, the system could offer multiple paradigm choices to meet the varied preferences of consumers.
At the bottom of the weighting customization page (410) a weighting reset button (421) allows the consumer to enter the changes they have made, or values they have entered, into the system of the present invention. In response to the consumer clicking on the weighting reset button (421) the system stores the displayed values for use in performing the ranking of merchants.
The process of a consumer customizing the weighting factors is shown in
The process of customizing the ranking without the use of categories is shown in
Once the consumer is satisfied with the relative weighting of comparison information the consumer clicks on the weighting reset button (421). In response, at step (425) the system receives the weighting factors displayed when the consumer clicked on the weighting reset button. At step (426) the system saves the weighting factors as modified for use in the ranking for the consumer.
At step (432) the system creates the category associations based on the association factors entered in the category fields (415). At step (433) the system begins the process of calculating categorization weighting factors. In response to the weighting factors entered corresponding to the comparison information items and the categories, along with the entering of the category identifiers, the system must harmonize the weighting factors entered in each field to reflect the consumers desired weighting. For instance, if a consumer selected the security category as having only a ten percent weighting on the overall ranking, and selected credit card security and availability of fraud insurance as the only two comparison information items in the security category, while giving credit card security a high ranking of five and fraud insurance a low ranking of one, the system would calculate categorization weighting factors corresponding to both the credit card security comparison information item and the fraud insurance comparison information item for use in the ranking. At step (434) the weighting factors corresponding to the credit card security and the fraud insurance are converted to percentage values. When weighting factors are expressed a ranking of relative importance, such as a 1 through 5 ranking, the system converts the weighting factors into percentage values based on a predetermined formula. In the presently preferred invention the conversion formula is expressed in steps (433) through (435).
At step (433) the system counts all the weighting factors in each accepted weighting value, and the total number of weighting factors. In the present example, the system would have a total of two weighting factors, one each for credit card security and fraud insurance. The number of each weighting factor is expressed as Nx. The system would also have a total of 1 weighting factor of five (N5=1), zero weighting factors of 4 (N4=0), zero weighting factors of 3 (N3=0), zero weighting factors of 2 (N2=0), and one weighting factors of 1 (N1=1). The percentage value for each weighting factor is expressed as Px where x corresponds to the weighting factor. For example, the percentage weighting factor for five is represented by P5. The formulae the weighting factors satisfy is
ΣPxNx=100% Eqn. 1
Px> . . . >P5>P4>P3>P2>P1 Eqn. 2
Px−Px−1=Px−1−Px−2= . . . =P2−P1 Eqn. 3
Equation 1 provides that the total number of weighting factors sum to 100%. Equation two provides that the weighting factor corresponding to the more important weighting rank has a higher percentage weighting factor than the lower ranked weighting factors. Equation 3 provides that the step between percentage weighting values is equal between any two neighboring rank weighting factors.
For the present example of x ranging from 1 to 5
The preferred weighting is for P5=30%, P4=25%, P3=20%, P2=15%, P1=10%. The present system adjusts the weighting factors Px to with respect to Eqn. 1-3. For the present example, P5=70% and P1=30%.
At step (435) the system replaces the weighting factors stored in the system prior to the customization by the consumer with the percentage weighting factors calculated at step (434).
At step (506) the comparison information retrieved at step (503) is compared between the merchants to determine whether the data sets for each merchant are complete. If one or more merchants lack an item of comparison information on a particular aspect of their offering, such as options on shipping or information on consumer complaints, the system has several options to normalize the data. If there are a large number of merchants offering complete, or nearly complete, data sets than any merchant with a partial data set could be eliminated from the ranking. Optionally, this merchant's elimination, the reason for the elimination, and the particular data elements missing from the data set, could be saved for retrieval by the consumer. Alternatively, merchants with incomplete data sets could have their data sets “completed” by giving the merchant the lowest possible value consistent with the corresponding information. For example, information relating to the option of having express overnight delivery for the specified product may receive one point if the merchant offers this delivery option, and zero points if the merchant does not. If this information was missing from the merchant's data set the system could normalize the data set by giving this merchant a zero point value for the express delivery option. Optionally, this lacking of this data value for the particular merchant could be stored and retrieved by the consumer.
At step (507) the system applies the weighting factors to the corresponding comparison information from step (506). The weighting factors, represented as percentage values reflecting the respective contribution of the corresponding weighting factor data, are multiplied by their corresponding comparison information item. The product of this multiplication is a weighted comparison value. The weighted comparison values are summed for each merchant at step (508) to calculate an aggregate score for the corresponding merchant. Optionally, the system also stores the aggregate scores at step (508).
Optionally, the system would also ascribe a star rating to the merchants based on their rating. As described in connection with
Alternatively, the ranking could use other break points for ascribing merchants a rating. Alternate embodiments could use other indicators other than stars for rating merchants.
Optionally, the present invention could use the rating system to apply to categories within the ranking. For example, a merchant that received a lower rank in the security category may be given the highest rating due to the small difference between that merchant's weighted security comparison value and that of the merchant with the greatest weighted security comparison value.
Optionally, the present rating and ranking system could be applied to individual comparison information factors. A merchant's specific rank on one comparison factor can be calculated and presented to the consumer.
In this manner the present invention provides detailed comparison information on not only the ranking based on a plurality of factors, which are weighted to reflect their relative importance to a consumer, but also provides relative difference information to indicate when the difference between merchants comparison values are relatively small, or relatively large. The present invention allows both of these comparison features to be presented on the total ranking, the ranking of merchants within a category, and that relative difference for individual comparison factors.
The merchant line includes a merchant rank block (602) on the leftmost portion of the merchant display line (611). The merchant rank block gives the merchants rank based on the merchant's aggregate value relative to the other merchant in the ranking. A merchant name block (603) is located adjacent to the merchant name block (602) and identifies the merchant through their trade name. An aggregate value total block (604) is adjacent to the merchant name block (603) and displays the aggregate value for the merchant identified in the merchant name block. An offered price block (605) is adjacent to the aggregate value block (604). The offered price block (605) displays the price the merchant in the merchant named in the merchant name block (603) is offering to sell the queried product. Optionally, a rating block (606) is adjacent the offered price block (605) and is located on the rightmost position of the merchant display line (611). The rating block (606) displays the rating given to the merchant in connection with the merchant's aggregate value. All of the blocks (602)-(606) in the merchant display line include information specific to the merchant named in the merchant name block (603).
The present invention provides a comparison system which increases the value of the returned results by giving the consumer the tools to inspect the ranking process. The present inventions ability to provide a detailed breakdown of the weighting factors and categories of information used allow the consumer to inspect the ranking process. In this manner the consumer can have confidence that the ranking is based on information about the product and merchant that is relevant to the consumer's purchasing decision. This eliminates the consumers concerns that the ranking is based on hidden factors that are not aligned with the consumer's interest, such as licensing fees or other promotional fees paid to some of the existing web sites.
The ability of the present invention to allow the consumer to customize the ranking gives the consumer the tools to increase the accuracy, reliability and relevance of the ranking. The present invention allows the consumer the flexibility to personalize the ranking system to reflect their individual priorities when making purchasing decisions. In this manner the present invention reflects the users priorities, giving the user confidence that the ranking is not based on extraneous factors that are unimportant to the user when making purchasing decisions.
While the present embodiment shows only one database, information on the merchants, offered products or services, and weighting factors could be stored in multiple databases or split amongst multiple databases. The database (10) or databases need not be located at the same facility as the server (12).
Various modifications and improvements to the preferred embodiment can be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. For example, while the stem has been described in connection with search for and comparing the offerings of one product from multiple merchants, the present invention could be easily adapted to search for can comparing the offerings from merchants on groups of products, or a “basket” of goods. For example, consumers wishing to lower their monthly grocery bill could specify a basket of goods they are interested in buying, everything from meats and cheeses to fruits and vegetables, and compare merchants offering based on lowest price, reliability of delivery, security of payment, and rankings of the quality of the delivered goods as rated by prior customers, in addition to other information the consumer deems relevant to their intended purchase. As a further example, the present invention is equally applicable to the comparison and ranking of different products. The present invention cal allow a consumer to search for two competing products, such as VCRs or automobiles, where the system ranks the offering of two different models by comparing the features and offered terms of sale including price. Depending on the weighting used in the ranking the present invention may return the higher price product as a higher weighting due additional features or other aspects of the product. In this manner the present invention helps to inform the consumer by comparing and ranking based on the consumer's true priorities when making a purchasing decision.
1. In an online comparison system, a method of ranking merchants, comprising:
- entering by a consumer a set of weighting factors prior to receiving query information related to a potential consumer purchase, the weighting factors corresponding to categories of merchant comparison information data;
- receiving the query information related to the potential consumer purchase;
- receiving a plurality of merchant comparison information data for a plurality of merchants related to completing the potential consumer purchase, the merchant comparison information data for a merchant organized into a plurality of categories, wherein the merchant comparison information data includes non-opinion data from at least two categories from price category, product availability category, product inventory category, time to deliver product category, payment terms category, payment method category, merchant creditworthiness category, and inventory category information;
- calculating a plurality of respective merchant data weight resultant values for each merchant of the plurality of merchants by multiplying each weighting factor from the entered set of weighting factors by a data value of the merchant comparison information data from a corresponding merchant data category;
- calculating an aggregate score for each merchant by summing the plurality of calculated merchant data weight resultant values;
- ranking the merchants based on the aggregate scores to produce a ranking result; and
- returning the ranking result to the consumer, the ranking result corresponding to the received query information.
2. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
- requesting information from the consumer relating to a potential consumer purchase.
3. The method of claim 2, further comprising:
- providing the ranking result to the consumer in response to the consumer's response to the request for information relating to a potential consumer purchase.
4. The method of claim 3, further comprising:
- excluding a merchant from the ranking result when the merchant receives an aggregate score below a specified threshold.
5. The method of claim 1, further comprising:
- requesting weighting factor information from a consumer; and
- using the consumer entered weighting factor information in the calculation of the respective merchant data weight resultant value.
6. The method of claim 5, wherein the weighting factors are balanced such that the weighting factors sum to a predetermined value.
7. The method of claim 1, wherein the weighting factors sum to a predetermined value.
8. A method of ranking merchants in an online comparison system, comprising the steps of:
- entering by a consumer a set of weighting factors prior to receiving query information related to a potential consumer purchase of a user specified product;
- receiving the query information relating to said user specified product from the consumer;
- retrieving a list of merchants from a database, wherein the list of merchants includes merchants offering said user specified product;
- retrieving merchant specific information about the merchants in said list of merchants, said merchant specific information including a plurality of merchant data entry values, the merchant data entry values representing non-opinion data;
- for each merchant in the list of merchants, applying the weighting factors to a corresponding subset of the merchant specific information including multiplying each of said merchant data entry values by a corresponding weighting factor from the set of weighting factors to calculate a merchant data weight resultant value, to produce a plurality of merchant data weight resultant values;
- for each merchant in the list of merchants, summing the corresponding plurality of merchant data weight resultant values to calculate a merchant aggregate score for said each merchant;
- ranking said list of merchants based on the calculated merchant aggregate scores to produce a ranking result; and
- returning the ranking result to the consumer, the ranking result corresponding to said user specified product, wherein any merchant for which the calculated aggregate score does not satisfy a specified criterion is excluded from the result.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein the weighting factors are chosen by the consumer from a preset grouping of weighting factors.
10. The method of claim 8, wherein the weighting factors are specified by the consumer.
11. The method of claim 8, further comprising the step of eliminating those merchants from the ranking result if the merchant specific information is incomplete for that merchant.
12. The method of claim 11, wherein said eliminating occurs only for merchants whose merchant specific data is incomplete as compared to a predefined screening criterion.
13. The method of claim 12, wherein the predefined screening criterion is received from the consumer.
14. The method of claim 8, further comprising the step of excluding from the ranking result comparison information items not common to all merchants in the ranking result.
15. The method of claim 8, further comprising the steps of:
- presenting the consumer with a list of merchant information categories;
- receiving consumer selected merchant information categories; and
- ranking merchants based upon the selected information categories.
16. The method of claim 8, further comprising the steps of:
- receiving category weighting factors from the consumer, wherein category weighting factors are applied to all comparison information corresponding to the category in the merchant specific information; and
- ranking merchants according to the received category weighting factors.
17. A method of ranking merchants in an online comparison system, comprising:
- receiving from a consumer a set of weighting factors prior to receiving query information specifying a product or service, the weighting factors corresponding to categories of merchant comparison information, wherein each said weighting factor is entered as a numerical value and represents the relative importance to be given to corresponding merchant comparison information in ranking the merchants;
- receiving the query information related to a product or service from the consumer;
- retrieving merchant comparison information data of merchants offering said product or service from a database, the retrieved merchant comparison information data corresponding to the entered query information, the merchant comparison information excluding opinion data and survey result data;
- calculating a plurality of weighted category scores for each merchant by, for each of the weighting factors, multiplying the weighting factor by a corresponding data value of the retrieved merchant comparison information data to calculate a weighted category score, and
- summing the weighted category scores to calculate a merchant overall score of each merchant;
- ranking the merchants according to the calculated merchant overall score of each merchant to produce a ranking result; and
- returning the ranking result to the consumer, the ranking result corresponding to the received query information.
18. A method of ranking merchants in an online comparison system, comprising:
- selecting, by a consumer, a plurality of weighting factors prior to receiving query information specifying a product or service, the weighting factors corresponding to merchant comparison information;
- receiving the query information specifying a product or service from the consumer;
- retrieving the merchant comparison information of merchants offering said product or service from a database, the retrieved merchant comparison information corresponding to the query information;
- calculating a plurality of weighted category scores for each merchant by, for each of the selected weighting factors, multiplying the weighting factor by a data value of the retrieved merchant comparison information to calculate a weighted category score, and
- summing the weighted category scores to calculate the merchant score of each merchant;
- ranking the merchants according to the calculated merchant score of each merchant to produce a ranking result, wherein the retrieved merchant comparison information excludes information obtained from surveys and information specifying the opinion of a person; and
- returning the ranking result to the consumer, the ranking result corresponding to the query specifying a product or service.
19. The method of claim 18, wherein the weighting factors and the query information are specified by the consumer.
20. The method of claim 18, wherein the weighting factors are selected by the consumer from a list of weighting factors.
21. The method of claim 20, wherein the list of weighting factors corresponds to the merchant information.
22. The method of claim 20, wherein the consumer can modify the selected weighting factors to enter a weighting factor not included in the list of weighting factors.
23. The method of claim 20, wherein the list of weighting factors is entered by the consumer.
24. The method of claim 20, wherein the list of weighting factors is selected by the consumer from a group of lists of weighting factors.
25. The method of claim 18, wherein the selection is made from a drop down list of weighting factors.
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International Classification: G06F 7/00 (20060101);